Before the announcement of the killing of the most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, the royal wedding of Prince William Arthur Philip Louis and Catherine Middleton (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) grabbed the hearts, headlines, and minds of people around the world. As we exited the month, a less conspicuous royal rally in the U.S. stock market has continued into May, with the S&P 500 index (NYSE:SPY) climbing +2.8% last month as the economic recovery gained firmer footing from the recession of 2008 and early 2009. As always, there is no shortage of issues to worry about as traders and speculators (investors not included) have an itchy sell-trigger finger, anxiously fretting over the possibility of losing gains accumulated over the last two years.
Here are some of the attention-grabbing issues that occurred last month:
Powerful Profits: According to Thomson Reuters, first quarter profit growth as measured by S&P 500 companies is estimated at a very handsome +18% thus far. At this point, approximately 84% of companies are exceeding or meeting expectations by a margin of 7%, which is above the long-term average of a 2% surprise factor.
Debt Anchor Front & Center: Budget battles remain over record deficits and debt levels anchoring our economy, but clashes over the extension of our debt ceiling will occur first in the coming weeks. Skepticism and concern were so high on this issue of our fiscal situation that the Standard & Poor’s (NYSE:MHP) rating agency reduced its outlook on the sovereign debt rating of U.S. Treasury securities to “negative,” meaning there is a one-in-three chance our country’s debt rating could be reduced in the next two years. Democrats and Republicans have put forth various plans on the negotiating table that would cut the national debt by $4 – $6 trillion over the next 10-12 years, but a chasm still remains between both sides with regard to how these cuts will be best achieved.
Inflation Heating Up: The global economic recovery, fueled by loose global central bank monetary policies, has resulted in fanning of the inflation flames. Crude oil prices have jumped to $113 per barrel and gasoline has spiked to over $4 per gallon (NYSE:USO). Commodity prices have jumped up across the board, as measured by the CRB (Commodity Research Bureau) BLS Index, which measures the price movements of a basket of 22 different commodities. The CRB Index has risen over +28% from a year ago. Although the topic of inflation is dominating the airwaves, this problem is not only a domestic phenomenon. Inflation in emerging markets, like China and Brazil, has also expanded into a dangerous range of 6-7%, and many of these governments are doing their best to slow-down or reverse loose monetary policies from a few years ago.
Expansion Continues but Slows: Economic expansion continued in the first quarter, but slowed to a snail’s pace. The initial GDP (Gross Domestic Product) reading for Q1 slowed down to +1.8% growth. Brakes on government stimulus and spending subtracted from growth, and high fuel costs are pinching consumer spending.
Ben Holds the Course: One person who is not overly eager to reverse loose monetary policies is Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. The Chairman vowed to keep interest rates low for an “extended period,” and he committed the Federal Reserve to complete his $600 billion QE2 (Quantitative Easing) bond buying program through the end of June. If that wasn’t enough news, Bernanke held a historic, first-ever news conference. He fielded a broad range of questions and felt the first quarter GDP slowdown and inflation uptick would be transitory.
Skyrocketing Silver Prices: Silver (NYSE:SLV) surged ahead +28% in April, the largest monthly gain since April 1987, and reached a 30-year high in price before closing at around $49 per ounce at the end of the month. Speculators and investors have been piling into silver as evidenced by activity in the SLV (iShares Silver Trust) exchange traded fund (NYSE:SLV), which on occasion has seen its daily April volume exceed that of the SPY (iShares SPDR S&P 500) exchange traded fund. Read: Silver Technical Trade Targets You Must Know in Today’s Market>>
Obama-Trump Birth Certificate Faceoff: Real estate magnate and TV personality Donald Trump broached the birther issue again, questioning whether President Barack Obama was indeed born in the United States. President Obama produced his full Hawaiian birth certificate in hopes of putting the question behind him. If somehow Trump can be selected as the Republican presidential candidate for 2012, he will certainly try to get President Obama “fired!”
Charlie Sheen…Losing! The Charlie Sheen soap opera continues. Ever since Sheen has gotten kicked off the show Two and a Half Men (NYSE:CBS), speculation has percolated as to whether someone would replace Sheen to act next to co-star John Cryer. Names traveling through the gossip circles include everyone from Woody Harrelson to Jeremy Piven to Rob Lowe. Time will tell whether the audience will laugh or cry, but regardless, Sheen will be laughing to the bank if he wins his $100 million lawsuit against Warner Brothers (NYSE:TWX).
Wade W. Slome is a CFA and CFP® at Sidoxia Capital Management.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain commodity and S&P 500 exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SLV, SPY, TWX, or any other security referenced in this article.
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